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Living on Borrowed Time

Grace To You / John MacArthur
The Truth Network Radio
May 22, 2024 4:00 am

Living on Borrowed Time

Grace To You / John MacArthur

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Grace To You
John MacArthur

It's not that you're better than the people who the tower fell on, or you're better than the people who were killed by Pilate's soldier, or the people who died in a calamity or got cancer or heart disease, or whatever it is. You're not any better. You're any different. You're a sinner. You deserve to die. You're living on borrowed time, which takes me to the last point.

Borrowed time is not permanent. Welcome to Grace to You with John MacArthur. I'm your host, Phil Johnson. There's a story of a New York City window washer who fell 47 floors, and amazingly, he survived. After 16 operations over two years, he fully recovered. In light of such a miraculous survival story, how should that man live his life? How would you live if you had such a second chance at life, specifically in your service to your church, or to your family, or at work? Well today, John MacArthur, Chancellor of the Masters University and Seminary, will remind you that everyone lives on that sort of borrowed time, whether they want to accept it or not. So turn with us to Luke 13 as John continues his study, Stories with Purpose. In the months toward the end of his ministry, and these final words are powerful and important, not only for the hearers when he said them, but for all of us who read them.

Luke 13, let's begin at verse 6, and he began telling this parable. A certain man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any. And he said to the vineyard keeper, behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down. Why should it even use up the ground? And he answered and said to him, let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer.

And if it bears fruit next year, fine, but if not, cut it down. It is not unusual to hear people talk about living on borrowed time. Pretty common expression. We use it to describe somebody who has survived a major heart attack in which they might well have died and we say after their survival, boy, he or she is living on borrowed time. Or someone who has had a serious bout with what was assumed to be a terminal case of cancer and went through the cancer and through the treatment and is still surviving and we say they're living on borrowed time.

Or somebody who escaped a near-death calamity, or somebody who even was given a legal reprieve sitting on death row. We use that phrase a lot, living on borrowed time. And what we mean by that is somebody is alive who should be dead by all accounts and if things were sort of normal in the way they should be, those people would be dead but they're alive and that's what we call borrowed time. And so it's a phrase that sort of has limits, you know, we use it only to speak of those who should be dead but aren't. And come to think of it, that's all of us.

That's all of us. The wages of sin is death, the soul that sinneth, it shall die. We are all living on borrowed time.

We should all be dead. Since the moment we were conceived, we were conceived with a sin nature. The psalmist put it this way, and sinned did my mother conceive me.

He wasn't talking about an illegitimate birth, he was talking about his nature at the very conception point being a sinful nature. And that's why fetuses die because death is an element of sin. We could have died in the womb and it would have been just for we were sinful from our conception. And there are infants who are born and then die and that's an indication that the operative principle of death is applied even in the case of an infant who has not consciously sinned but is nonetheless a possessor of a sinful disposition.

And then there are little children who have reached a conscious level where they can know they're doing wrong and do it and many of them die in some parts of the world, most of them die. We could have died in our mother's womb and it would have been a just death. We could have died in infancy and it would have been a just death. We could have died as children, it would have been just, or as young people. We're all living on borrowed time. Death can take us in the womb, in the crib, in the playground, at school.

We all live on borrowed time. We never know when the tower is going to fall on us, as Jesus described in the prior five verses that opened up this thirteenth chapter. We never know when some calamity is going to take us. We never know when we might be the victims of some outrageous act of slaughter such as when the soldiers of Pilate came into the temple and slaughtered the Galileans, the very incident that was brought to Jesus' attention in that prior passage. We don't know what calamity may befall us.

We don't know what illness may catch us. The question is not what kind of God lets this happen. We're all sinners. We all deserve to die.

That's a just penalty. The real question is what kind of God lets us live? We're all living on borrowed time. It's time we don't deserve. We should be dead.

We all should be in hell. It's a really very dramatic way to end a sermon that Jesus uses here. As this sermon has gone on from its beginning, it's been increasing in its urgency.

It's a great model of evangelistic preaching. Jesus started out by inviting people to be saved from their sin and from divine judgment and from hell and to have forgiveness and eternal life and the hope of heaven. And He said, in order to come to Me and receive these things, you're going to have to abandon false religion and false religious leaders. You're going to have to begin to fear God and not men. You're going to need to confess Me and you're going to need to entrust your life to the Holy Spirit and turn from loving the world and material things and set your heart on the Kingdom and you're going to have to realize that there's an urgency here because the Son of Man could come at any time and then your opportunity would be over. And He said, you're going to stand one day before God to give an account of your opportunity and what you did with that opportunity. And if you haven't made the most of your opportunity, you're going to be punished with many lashes or with few lashes, depending upon how much you knew and how much you rejected.

And you're going to have to be willing to pay the price of being separated from people in your family. A father set against a daughter and a son against a mother and, you know, I came to bring a sword. And then Jesus escalated it a little bit and said, and you better make the decision now because if you wait until you get before the judge, it's too late, you better settle your case before you get to the court. Settle out of court with God. Put your life in the hands of Jesus Christ now because when you come before God in the final judgment, it's too late.

How much time do you have to do that? How much borrowed time will God give you? The tower didn't fall on you. You didn't get killed by pilot soldiers.

You're still alive. You still have some time. But it's borrowed time. How is it that we live on borrowed time? If God is just and holy and righteous, if God hates sin, if God is a God of vengeance and a God of anger and a God of wrath, and the Bible says He's all these things, how is it that we live on such borrowed time? What is it that allows God to give us this time? It's time we don't deserve.

It's time many didn't have. The answer is because God is gracious and He's merciful and He's compassionate towards sinners and it causes Him to hold back what we deserve. I believe that the most universal gift, the most universal blessing that comes from God's common grace to humanity is time...time to repent, time to believe, time granted by God's patience...God's patience. He is patient because He is merciful. Listen to God's own declaration in Exodus chapter 34 verse 6, the Lord passed by in front of Moses and said, the Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness and truth, or faithfulness...compassionate, gracious, slow to anger. verse...He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.

Yes He's just, but He's also compassionate. This is repeated again in Numbers 14, essentially verbatim in verse 18, the Lord is slow to anger, abundant in loving kindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but He will by no means clear the guilty. In Psalm 86, the same statement is made almost identical again as God reiterates the reason He is patient, it is due to His mercy. Psalm 86, 15, Thou, O Lord, are to God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness and truth, or faithfulness. You're all living on borrowed time and it's due to the fact that God though just and righteous and a hater of sin is at the same time compassionate.

Psalm 103, 8, the Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness. In fact, one of the most interesting illustrations of this is Jonah. Jonah does not want to preach repentance to Nineveh.

Why? Because he doesn't want the Ninevites to repent. You say, I thought he was a prophet, he was. I thought he was an evangelist, he was. He's a prophet and an evangelist who doesn't want people to repent?

That's right. Oh, he wanted Jews to repent, he didn't like Gentiles. He was a racist. He hated the idea that he would have to go to the Gentiles and preach and that they would repent.

And that's what he did eventually after a circuitous trip through the belly of a fish. He finally got there. He preached. The whole place repented. The Lord relented the calamity which He had declared He would bring on them.

They repented in time and God held back the calamity and He didn't do it. That's the end of Jonah chapter 3. Listen to chapter 4 verse 1, it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry. If there's one thing the evangelist Jonah couldn't stand, it was people being converted, Gentile people.

He hated it. And he prayed to the Lord this amazing prayer, "'Please, Lord, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? I knew You'd do this and that's why I went to Tarshish because I know You are a gracious, compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness.'"

What a strange approach. God's mercy is revealed in His patience. God holds back. God relents, as it were, from the judgment that is deserved to give sinners borrowed time.

Nehemiah 9 17 says exactly the same thing. Jeremiah 44 22 says He doesn't punish until He cannot bear it any longer. He will by no means clear the guilty, but He has plenty of mercy. The Bible says He has multitudes of mercies.

He is merciful and the reason that sinners live is because of that mercy. But that mercy has limits. You say, I thought the Bible talked about everlasting mercy.

It does. Psalm 136 says His mercy endures forever 21 times. But it doesn't endure forever for everyone. It does not endure forever for everyone. Listen to what Psalm 103 17 and 18 says.

This limits it. The lovingkindness of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, who keep His covenant. Remember His precepts to do them. Everlasting mercy, everlasting lovingkindness, everlasting grace belongs only to those who love and worship God. Everyone else is living on limited mercy, limited patience. But God's patience has a purpose.

It's not an indifferent kind of patience, it's an opportunity that's inside that patience that you need to know about. Listen to Romans 2, I'm going to give you a handful of verses that are really important. Romans 2, 4, do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?

Why is He being patient? To give you time to repent. But because of your stubbornness, verse 5, and unrepentant heart, you're piling up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.

I mean, it goes both ways, folks. You have time to repent, but if you don't and you maintain stubborn and unrepentant heart, then you are accumulating wrath against the judgment which will make your judgment all the more severe. But His patience is to lead you to repentance, to give you time to repent and embrace salvation in Christ. First Timothy 1.16, Paul says, Jesus Christ demonstrated in me His perfect patience. I don't know if you ever think about it that way, but the Lord was very patient with Paul.

When his name was Saul, he was going everywhere denouncing the name of Jesus and persecuting Christians and putting them in jail and killing them. And the Lord whom Paul was persecuting was very patient with him until he came to salvation. Look at 1 Peter chapter 3. Here is a monumental illustration of the purpose of God's patience. It's talking about Noah, the days of Noah, and it says, the patience of God, 1 Peter 3.20, kept waiting in the days of Noah. The patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah during the construction of the ark. The Bible says that Noah preached, he was a preacher of righteousness, Noah preached for 120 years.

He preached repentance, he preached faith in God, he preached the coming judgment and he built a boat to illustrate the judgment that was coming. The patience of God lasted for 120 years. Finally God said in Genesis 6, 3, my spirit will not always strive with man, it's over, I've reached my limit, that's it. And it began to reign and the whole world of impenitent people was destroyed. In the Old Testament in that rich little prophecy of Hosea, this issue is mentioned a number of times. Hosea chapter 4 verse 17 comes the warning, Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone.

Well that's frightening. You may not even have until your death, you may have just until God decides to let you alone. I don't know how much borrowed time you have. You have until Jesus comes.

You have until you die. But even if He doesn't come and you don't die, there's always the possibility that God says, I've had all I'm going to take, that's it. That's what Hosea said to Israel here called Ephraim. And in chapter 5 verse 6, he says about them, Israel, Judah, they will go with their flocks and herds to seek the Lord, but they will not find Him, He has withdrawn from them. What a frightening thought that is. And he says in chapter 9 verse 12, woe to them when I depart from them. Woe to them when I depart from them. There is a time when God stops His patience.

You may still be alive, but He's not available. Second Peter is another text, chapter 3 verse 9. Why doesn't the Lord come in judgment? Why doesn't the Lord destroy the present heavens and earth in the day of judgment? Why doesn't He destroy ungodly men? Is it because He doesn't keep His promise? Verse 9 says He's not slow about His promise. It's because He's patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. He's waiting for you to repent. So you have some borrowed time until you die, until He comes in judgment, or until God says, I'm not available. Verse 15 of 2 Peter 3, here's the sum of it, regard the patience of our Lord as salvation, as salvation. We're all living on borrowed time. I don't know how much time you have.

You better settle with God before you get to court. And that's what our parable is about. Let's go back to Luke 13. Now it should be obvious what it means. With that penetrating thought in your mind about living on borrowed time, all of a sudden this story becomes clear.

Let's look at it. And He began telling this parable. The parable is an illustration, that's all. It's not an allegory, you don't have to parallel it in all parts to some other reality, it's just a story. Basically has one purpose and one meaning, it's an illustration. And He gave many.

This one is simple and straightforward. A certain man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard. Now that's a pretty common thing. Vineyards are very, very common, they still are in Israel. It was an agrarian society.

Jesus therefore taught in many agricultural metaphors, analogies and illustrations, parables, because everybody understood it. Fig trees were very common in Israel, very valuable. In fact, way back in Deuteronomy 8, 8, Zechariah 3, 9 and 10, even back in Micah chapter 7, the chapter opens in verse 1, references the fig tree being a symbol of God's blessing, not only a land of milk and honey, it was a land of vineyards and fig trees. Fig trees grew to a height of 25 feet, sometimes a width of 20 feet. They were full kind of dense trees. The fruit was like a small plum or a large cherry in its size. And they not only provided fruit every single year and they flourished in the land of Israel when they were taken care of well, but they also were great shade trees because of the density and the size. In fact, it was Nathanael, remember, that Jesus saw when He was sitting under the fig tree, which is where He sat on a hot day to get some shade, John 1.48, excellent place to gather and collect. And it was pretty typical that vineyards really were the crop they worked on hardest and, of course, they prepared the ground for the vineyard and because they had the most prepared ground and gave the most attention to the vineyard and it was protected and guarded and watered and fertilized, it was just a perfect place to plant the fruit trees. So very commonly, and you find it in a number of places in the Bible, they planted their fruit trees in the same soil where the vineyard was. And that's what happened here.

You can read Micah 4 and you'll see illustrations of that, there are others as well. And so, as would be understood by everybody, this man had a fig tree which had been planted by him or by someone else in his vineyard. It had been there a while and he came looking for fruit on it and didn't find any.

This was unexpected. The fig trees did really well and they particularly would do very well in vineyard soil because vineyard soil was cared for and watered and fertilized and cultivated. It was the best place, or as good a place as any, to plant a tree and this is great disappointment. His disappointment is manifest in verse 7. He said to the vineyard keeper, the gardener, whoever cared for it, Behold...that's a word that indicates surprise...this is not expected.

Three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down. Why does it even use up the ground? Now this is not some technical assessment of the negative impact of a fruitless tree on the ground's resources for the vineyard. That is to say, he's not saying, you know, it's using water the vineyard could use, it's using nutrients the vineyard could use. This is not a technical assessment. This is just an expression of disgust.

I mean, why does it even use up the ground? Cut it down. There's a level of irritation in this, of disgust, of anger and justifiable because it's fruitless, it's useless.

And they would understand that who were listening that day. But here comes the point in verse 8. And he, the gardener, the vineyard keeper, answered and said to him, Let it alone, sir, kurie...which is the same word as Lord, it could be a term of respect for someone you served, sir, and it also can refer to the Lord which it does most of the time in the New Testament and that will give you a little idea of who's in view here in the illustration. Let it alone, Lord, don't cut it down now. For this year too, let it alone until I dig around it and put in fertilizer. Would you give this tree one more shot? Just give me one more opportunity to do what I've always done every year with this tree. This isn't like, okay, I'm going to do this and I've never done it before. He doesn't say that.

This year too, he says, like in every other year. He was a faithful guy in the story who was taking care of this man's crop. Let me dig...that's the word scopto , only used by Luke. Let me loosen the soil which aerates the ground and allows the water to get into it. And let me fertilize caprion, put some dung or manure on it.

I've done it all along and it must have been a certain way they did that, loosen up the soil, keep the water flowing and fertilize it whenever was appropriate. And then in verse 9, and if it bears fruit next year...and you'll see the word fine is in italics, do you see that? Or if you have a New King James, is it the word well?

There's really no word in the Greek. It would probably go like this, and if it bears fruit next do you translate a shrug? You know, if it bears fruit next year, it's a sort of Jewish expression.

And if not, cut it down. That's the end of the sermon. Boy, that is a dramatic ending. You think they got it? I think they got it.

What would they be thinking of? John the Baptist, chapter 3 of Luke, down at the river, talking about the Messiah coming and saying, you better bring forth fruits fit for repentance because the axe is already laid at the root of the tree. When Jesus told stories, he wasn't trying to entertain.

He told stories with purpose, and that's the title of John MacArthur's current study. It's a fresh look at the parables of Jesus here on Grace to You. John, as you made clear today, these parables have a lot to say about the gospel, about what the kingdom of God is like, and so I'm wondering, are there aspects of the salvation message that might be incomplete or not as clear if Jesus had never told a parable? I think we have to honestly say that all that is necessary for salvation is revealed in Scripture, even without the parables. I think the fullness of the gospel is revealed in the Old Testament that points to Christ, and then you have very specific realities concerning Christ in Isaiah 53, which is really the first gospel and tells the story of the life and death and resurrection and exaltation of Christ. So I think the Old Testament has the full message of salvation. Certainly the New Testament, the book of Acts, the preaching of the apostles, then all the rest of the epistles and the book of Revelation contain all the essential theology of the gospel, so that the salvation message was clear even to Old Testament people.

It's certainly crystal clear in the epistles of the New Testament and the book of Acts, the preaching of the apostles, and reiterated in the book of Revelation. The parables in the gospels, the parables there in particular were designed to demonstrate to a very religious Jewish people the deadly fallacy of their false religious system based on self-righteousness, based on works. We would not so clearly understand how woefully inadequate and seriously wrong a works righteousness system is without the parables.

They elucidate that in a powerful, powerful way. You need to get a copy of the book, Parables. It unfolds the realities of salvation, subtitled The Mysteries of God's Kingdom, revealed through the stories Jesus told. 200 and some odd page book, Parables.

You can order it from us today. Thanks, Jon. And this book explains why Jesus taught in parables, and it will show you what these stories say about your salvation and eternal life. Pick up a copy of Jon's book titled, Parables, when you contact us today. You can call us here at 800-55-GRACE or visit Keep in mind, for a limited time you can get Jon's book, Parables, as well as almost everything we sell, for 25% off the normal price, and shipping is free. Again, to order, go to or call us weekdays from 730 to 4 o'clock Pacific time at 800-55-GRACE. Now if Jon's verse-by-verse teaching is encouraging you, if you've seen your family strengthened, or if someone you know has repented of his sin and turned to Christ in faith through our Bible teaching, we would love to hear your story. It's more important than you think. Reach us by email at letters at, or you can mail a note to Grace to You, P.O.

Box 4000, Panorama City, California, 91412. Now for Jon MacArthur and the entire Grace to You staff, I'm Phil Johnson. Look for Grace to You television this Sunday on DirecTV Channel 378, and then join us tomorrow when Jon continues his study titled, Stories with Purpose, answering the question, Does God's Patience Run Out? It's another half hour of unleashing God's truth one verse at a time, on Grace to You.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-05-22 05:52:22 / 2024-05-22 06:02:59 / 11

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